My UL Fire Starting Kit

My UL Fire Starting Kit

I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that when I’m out hiking, whether it’s a multi-day hike or short day hike, my fire starting needs are pretty basic.

Typically the only time I need to start a fire is when I’m cooking or boiling water to heat up some dehydrated food, make some soup, or make a hot cup of tea. Occasionally I’ll be at site that will allow a camp fire, but those types of sites are becoming more and more rare. So it’s pretty much only for cooking that I need to start a fire.

The type of stove I am carrying with me will dictate the type of fire starting tools that I need to carry. For example; if I am carrying my Evernew DX stove and using it as a wood burning stove, I know that I will need to start a small wood fire using tinder and sticks or whatever is at hand. If I am carrying my Bud-Light alcohol stove, I know that I will only need something to ignite the denatured alcohol, which doesn’t require any tinder.

These two basic fire starting scenarios cover over 95% of my needs for a fire starting kit or gear, so over time I have paired down the items that I carry with me to the point where I have, what I think is, a minimal approach that covers all my bases.  you may have more exotic needs or prefer to carry more or less gear, but for me this has proven to be more than sufficient. Here is what I carry for fire starting:

Sometimes, mostly when the mood takes me, I’ll carry a Light My Fire Fire Steel (Scout) which weighs 21g and brings my total fire starting kit weight up to 54g / 1.9oz, which still isn’t bad.

BIC Classic Disposable Lighter
This is what I use as my primary method of starting a fire. It’s light weight (even lighter if you use a BIC-mini) and works equally well for lighting my alcohol stove or a small wood fire. I definitely prefer the BIC lighters to some of the cheaper brands that are out there because I’ve had several of those fail on me, like the Scripto Views. However, the Scripto Tiny Lite disposable lighters are really quite good and a great light weight option.

BIC Classic Lighter & Ranger Bands

Wrapped around my BIC lighter is a short section of bicycle inner tube, which has a couple of clever uses IMHO.

  1. If you manage to find a very thin inner tube, like those used on racing/road bicycles, it will fit tight around the width of the lighter and serve as a great rubberized grip in bad weather
  2. If you cut the rubber inner tube into thinner strips (shown on the left in the photo) they can be used as extremely strong rubber bands, often referred to as “Ranger bands”. These have all sorts of uses in a pinch
  3. Lastly, the rubber makes for a bomb-proof fire lighting material even when wet. If I am in an emergency (which is about the only time I would want to burn black rubber), I can cut a small strip of the rubber and light it with my BIC. It will burns steadily for at least 1-2 minutes which is plenty of time to allow me to start a good sized fire

Spark Lite Striker and Tinder
I usually carry an Adventure Medial Kits’ Spark Lite flint striker and four tinder sticks in a tiny ziplock bag inside of my first aid kit. I like to carry it as a backup in case my BIC lighter runs out of butane or I lose it.

Spark Lite Fire Starter & Tinder Sticks

If you’re not familiar with this, let me give a brief description of what it is and how it works. The square plastic body contains a long metal spring similar to the ones you find in a ballpoint pen. At the end of the spring is a tiny piec of flint, just like the flints you find in a Zippo lighter. The spring holds the flint against the metal wheel at the top of the striker. When the wheel is rotated/struck quickly in the correct direction (indicated by the two large arrows) it grinds against the flint and throws out a large set of sparks. Think of it as a BIC lighter ignition without the butane gas.

Accompanying the Spark Lite are four small pieces of tinder called Tinder-Quik. These are waterproof and take a spark very easily. Once lit they will burns for 2 to 3 minutes, plenty of time to get a warm fire going. Even though both the flint striker and the tinder are described as being waterproof, I like to keep them dry if at all possible – it makes things a lot easier.

There are two versions of the Spark Lite tool that I am aware of; there is the orange colored one that is made of plastic and is disposable, and there is a green metal version of the exact same size that allows you to replace the tiny flint when it gets worn down. The disposable one is rated to over 1,000 sparks, which seems more than adequate for my needs, especially as a secondary backup solution.

REI Storm-proof Matches
If you don’t already have some of these bad boys then you should go get some! These are not your average storm-proof or wind-proof matches that you see being sold all over the place. These matches are practically impossible to stop once they’ve been lit.

REI Storm-proof Matches

I’ve carried these for a few years now and have only had occasion to use them, but when I did they have always gotten the job done. In fact, rather than me try to describe in words how bomb-proof these things are, take a look at this cool video that shows you exactly how hard these matches are to extinguish. This is not my video, so pardon the soundtrack.

After watching that video you’ll want to get some of these. I keep four or five of them with me in a tiny ziplock bag, just to have as an emergency. Each box of REI storm-proof matches comes with two spare cardboard strips of striker material in addition to the striker that comes on the side of the matchbox. I carry one of these in the small bag with the matches. These are not strike anywhere matches -they will get chewed up if you attempt to strike them on rougher surfaces.

LMF Fire Steel – Scout
As I mentioned earlier, I only really carry this occasionally. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not because I don’t like it or don’t know how to use it, on the contrary I absolutely love using it – it’s just more gear than I need to carry for my typical needs. Your mileage may vary, as they say.

Light My Fire - Firesteel (Scout)

This particular fire steel has been modified by me using some black Sugru. The LMF Scout model has a stick that is too narrow to fit properly into the sheath of my Koster bushcraft knife. So I used some Sugru to make the fire steel shaft wider at the top so that it would fit tightly into the flint stick holder on my knife sheath. The sheath is made to take the larger LMF Army fire steel – which I have since bought.

The LMF fire steels usually come with a cord lanyard and metal striker. I take those off and carry the fire steel on its own or in my pocket. I prefer to use the back of my knife as the striker as I’m usually never without a knife of some sort – but that’s a whole other blog topic.

So that’s it. My standard fire starting kit, which contains the BIC lighter, AMK striker and tinder, and the REI matches weighs in at a whopping 33g / 1.16oz. Of course I could probably remove one of the two backup options in order to lighten the overall kit weight  even more, but I like all three of these options and I’m happy with what I’ve chosen.

What fire starting tools do you like to carry with you, and what are your particular fire starting needs?

Disclosure: The author owns these products and paid for them using their own funds.

(Visited 2,684 times, 1 visits today)
Be Sociable, Share!
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17445996507902187084 Casey Head

    I’d ditch the Spark-Lite, and just keep the tinders for it. With the lighter and firesteel you have two ways to make a spark, you don’t need 3.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15329904923638392138 James

    I carry a booklet or two of paper matches. They light 100% of the time unless they are wet which never happens since they are in a ziplock sandwich bag. Your gear selection is quite a bit cooler I must admit but quite a bit heavier as well. UL is about getting rid of unnecessary weight. Flint & steel definitely has a cool factor to it but is highly impractical compared to matches.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Casey, I definitely agree that I don’t need all three and usually don’t carry the LMF fire steel. The Spark-Lite is great for its weight and simplicity compared to the fire steel – but I hear you!

    James, I’ve tried paper matches and have limited success with them. They were either too flimsy or the match was too short, just my opinion. I agree about getting rid of unnecessary weight and that the flint/fire steel is pretty heavy, but I always aim to try and strike (no pun intended) a balance between weight and functionality. It’s a tough call and a personal one I guess. Any one of my three options would be sufficient. I’m curious, what brand of paper matches do you use and like?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09364636677279037964 Mattexian

    Lots of redundancy, tho this is a good thing when it comes to fire-making. I usually carry a Bic and a BSA Hotspark on my person. (An AMK personal kit with a Spark-lite and Quick-tabs, is in my daypack.) The only chunk of bike innertube is around an old Zippo, that helps keep the fluids from evaporating away so quickly. I might have to add some to the Bic.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    Brian- excellent thread, having a fire at night is one of my favorite parts of backpacking.

    My fire kit is very basic and simple, mini fire steel and mini Bic lighter. For tinder I carry a couple of cotton balls and/or a couple Quick Tinder tabs and my favorite Birch bark that come from trees in yard.

    The mini Bic is kept in my cooking kit, fire steel and tinder in a small ziploc type bag.

    My primary source of fuel for cooking is wood with a Trail Designs Ti-Tri ULC. On my way to camp I’ll start looking for natural tinder, old birds nest, pine cones, pine pitch/sap, small thumb size and smaller hanging dead limbs for fuel. Between the Bic and fire steel I’m good to go.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14187831875021772459 Eugene Smith

    Brian,

    I’ve always packed two methods for starting fire, occasionally if I know the weather window is really dry and rain precipitation hasn’t occurred in the region for a considerable period of time, then I’ll just pack one item for fire starting (typically matches). All fire sources go inside a mini Aloksak type zip baggie.

    #1- Cigar matches- picked up from the local tobacco store. Simple box keeps them tidy, they strike well, and are light.

    #2- Bic (mini)- pretty straight forward, light, and simple.

    opt. #3- Firesteel “Scout”- this is for the rare time when I use my Snowpeak TiMax stove and need a simple spark.

    I live in a very dry region, so I just grab whatever is around my feet at camp, or I’ll snag some dry old man’s beard or tinder along the trail and stuff that inside my fire kit bag.

    Woodburning stoves are what I use (Traildesigns Sidewinder Ti-Tri), and occasionally a cat food can alcohol setup.

    Anyone have experience with the vaseline embalmed cotton balls? I hear that works brilliantly, never tried it myself.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    Eugene said- “Anyone have experience with the vaseline embalmed cotton balls? I hear that works brilliantly, never tried it myself.”

    I’ve used vaseline and cotton balls, but I find them to be very messy, the vaseline gets on my fingers then transfers to the lighter, fire steel…etc. I just don’t like messy, other than that cotton balls and vaseline work great as a starter.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Eugene, I have to concur with JERMM. Cotton balls soaked in vaseline take a spark easily and burn for a long time, in this regard they work superbly. But, they are very messy and have to be carried in a sealed bag or container. Like JERMM also said, they tend to get greasy vaseline all over the place, which I can stand for.

    An excellent cheap alternative make-yourself tinder is wax soaked jute string. This is sold commercially as part of the Fire-Fixins kit, but is so easy to make and doesn’t have the greasy feel of the cotton balls and vaseline. Here’s a good post about it with a video.

    If you want to just buy a good tinder, I can highly recommend the Tinder Quik sticks, there’s several commercial types and in my experience they all work well.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04380958324541306917 JERMM

    I watched the video and gave it a try, easy and fun. I used an old candle since I already had it on hand, so I’m not sure how it compares to the paraffin used in the video, but it did catch on first strike and held a flame for a couple of minutes.

    When I smelled the wax burning I remembered a technique that a friend of mine uses, he carries 2-3 of the trick birthday candles, the ones you can’t blow out. Once they’re lit they stay lit even in windy conditions and they’re easy to place inside/under the tinder.

  • Anonymous

    How do you know how much butane is left in the lighter? I think you’de be better off with a quality see-through lighter if you can find one.

    Drier lint is pretty amazing for the weight (You probably want cotton lint.)

    The firesteels from firesteel.com throw gobs of hot sparks.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09628095804170935682 Brian

    Anonymous, the BIC lighter is see-thru if I take the rubber inner tube off and hold it up to the light. It also has a completely transparent base that I can check the fluid level on even if I do have the rubber wrapped around it. It’s never been an issue.

    I don’t like the flint rods that throw gobs of sparks. They’re ineffective at proper fire lighting and closeup tinder work. They seem great on videos, but in practice they have been almost impossible to use properly. A simple ferro rod like the LMF one I show works much better IMHO and I have tried both.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15329904923638392138 James

    Cheapest brand paper matches. The trick with paper matches is lighting them correctly; you don’t light them the same way you do wooden matches. You flip the cover of the matchbook over and put the match head on the striker. Pinch the matchbook closed on the match head and then quickly pull out the paper match. It’ll light 100% of the time. It will burn out pretty quickly but then that’s what your tender is for.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17445996507902187084 Casey Head

    I’d ditch the Spark-Lite, and just keep the tinders for it. With the lighter and firesteel you have two ways to make a spark, you don’t need 3.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07709358863171332562 Ryan

    Pretty similar to what I carry. A cheap disposable lighter really is hard to beat. I do make my own cotton ball and vaseline tender. I keep those in a pill bottle and they are great for starting a fire, even when wet.

    I do have a question. Where do you get those handy little zipper bags.

  • Spencer

    Hey Brian, just to share one of my fire steel mod so that it became my EDC. Like you mentioned in your blog not a fav tool for fire starting and not an item everyone carries everyday. But when time needed, it is always there.

    Check out the Youtube.
    http://youtu.be/Ybz6kpeJBhU

    Thanks and Cheers

  • Spencer

    Hey Brian, just to share one of my fire steel mod so that it became my EDC. Like you mentioned in your blog not a fav tool for fire starting and not an item everyone carries everyday. But when time needed, it is always there.

    Check out the Youtube.
    http://youtu.be/Ybz6kpeJBhU

    Thanks and Cheers

  • swillis

    The spark-lite throws much more/better sparks than a lighter and unlike the firesteel can be used with one hand.

  • swillis

    The spark-lite throws much more/better sparks than a lighter and unlike the firesteel can be used with one hand.

  • Randy

    I love the redundancy, Brian!  I also carry a firesteel into the woods along with Mini or Micro Inferno, because with that combo I know I have a guaranteed flame.  I’m not all that hip on paper matches either.  I’ve seen too many ziplocs leak over the years, so I’d want to have a backup if that happened.  And Bic lighters rock.  I have just the opposite experience as you have with the firesteels though.  I have better luck getting a fire going using the firesteels that throw those giant gobs of red hot steel.  Your mileage may vary I suppose.  Bottom line is to use what you’ve tested and works for you.  Great kit, Brian!  Thanks for sharing. 

  • Randy

    I love the redundancy, Brian!  I also carry a firesteel into the woods along with Mini or Micro Inferno, because with that combo I know I have a guaranteed flame.  I’m not all that hip on paper matches either.  I’ve seen too many ziplocs leak over the years, so I’d want to have a backup if that happened.  And Bic lighters rock.  I have just the opposite experience as you have with the firesteels though.  I have better luck getting a fire going using the firesteels from firesteel.com that throw those giant gobs of red hot steel.  Your mileage may vary I suppose.  Bottom line is to use what you’ve tested and works for you.  Great kit, Brian!  Thanks for sharing. 

  • Craigp323

    I’m a big fan of keeping a chunk of candle wax. In the temperate rainforest a small piece of wax (or even better a short candle) can save a lot of time hunting for dry tinder or small material. Obviously wont catch with a spark; but with a match it’s easy to start a fire in wet conditions because of the preheat time the candle provides when using dampish material

    • http://www.briangreen.net Brian Green

      I’ve played with carrying small candles and they do work great. It’s a matter of preference based on known (or unknown) conditions in the end. Do you often hike in the temperate rainforest?